(Washington) - The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing today to examine international efforts to deploy civilian police in post-conflict regions in Europe. The hearing also examined efforts to monitor and train local police for effectiveness in keeping with democratic standards and the rule of law.
“One of the more critical and difficult challenges in the transition to democracy in the OSCE region has been the process of transforming law enforcement structures,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “Progress in meeting this challenge has been mixed, and regrettably, in some countries those charged with upholding the law are themselves responsible for human rights violations.”
“Organized crime and official corruption threaten democratic development and undermine effective law enforcement,” added Campbell, a former deputy sheriff. “Given my own personal background in law enforcement, I am keenly aware of the importance of professional training for police officers.”
“International civilian policing is, without question, an issue of growing importance in human rights work,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “I strongly support efforts to provide countries in transition with assistance and expertise in democratic governance.”
“We have seen the difficulties encountered in southeastern Europe by those who were earlier displaced and now seek to return to their original homes,” Smith added. “I am quite disturbed by reports that local police in several countries do little if anything to stop the trafficking of human beings. In some countries, the police continue to be used as instruments of the state to quash dissenting voices, even with the use of torture. Elsewhere, members of the Roma minority have been harassed and sometimes killed by police officers for no reason. The police officer standing on the corner should be seen as the protector of civil liberties, not the abuser. ”
“As Members of Congress we are all aware of the risks and costs of a prolonged presence in the Balkan region,” said Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “I believe we are all of one mind that we want to see improvements on the ground to the benefit of the people living there that would also allow the United States and the rest of the international community to gradually disengage and to be able to say ‘job well done.’ It is a challenge and we must be committed to persevering. In no area is the need for improvement more critical than in the realm of law enforcement.”
Opening statements presented at today’s hearing by Commission Members and expert witnesses are available on the Internet at http://www.csce.gov.